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Backers Say Potential Nov. Ballot Initiative Empowers Small Donors

Nearly 330,000 signatures were submitted for a ballot initiative to create a voucher donation system for funding future Washington elections. (Chelsea Talbert/Integrity Washington)
Nearly 330,000 signatures were submitted for a ballot initiative to create a voucher donation system for funding future Washington elections. (Chelsea Talbert/Integrity Washington)
August 1, 2016

SEATTLE – Backers of an initiative aimed at amplifying small donations to politicians are waiting to hear if they've qualified for the November ballot.

Initiative 1464 would give Washingtonians three $50 democracy vouchers to donate to the politicians of their choice for each election.

The measure has support from groups that span the political spectrum, including the League of Women Voters of Washington and the Seattle Tea Party Patriots.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart says a voucher system would free up campaign time currently spent on fund raising.

"If you did not have to spend time raising money, you could spend twice as much time listening to your constituents and learning about what the concerns are," he explains.

Backers turned in nearly 330,000 signatures to the Washington secretary of state, 80,000 more than were needed to qualify for the ballot. Seattle passed a similar measure last year.

To raise money for the democracy vouchers, the state would eliminate the sales-tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers.

Opponents are concerned that could negatively affect businesses in counties bordering other states. They also point out that rich donors can still fund candidates themselves.

However, Stuckart maintains the positives of the initiative outweigh the negatives.

"You have people that feel like their $50 isn't going to make a difference,” he states. “But if everybody has these $50 vouchers, I think you're likely to get a lot more people actually participating and knowing that their voice is going to matter."

The initiative also would require political ads funded by PACs to disclose who is paying for them, and require elected officials to wait three years before working for lobbying groups.

Stuckart says the initiative could create a campaign finance system that chips away at the influence of unlimited money from special interest groups, allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010.

"There is no magic bullet, and especially under the current Supreme Court rules, there's no way to completely eliminate it,” he states. “And you do need to get the message out, as a candidate. So, it's how do we level the playing field and get more people involved in the process?"

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA